A reader on my recent post on SmartThings comments to ask “What made you decide on this solution for home automation? What others did you consider?” I thought this was a good question worthy of a full-on post to answer:
If Momma’s Happy…
I decided on SmartThings because it seemed to offer the best balance between "just works" and "hackable". “Just Works” is going to be important for the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). She needs to be able to turn things off and on manually or with her phone, and not worry about what crazy thing her dear husband has going on. So far, I’d give SmartThings a B+ on this. Their devices pair up and work out-of-the-box with minimal fuss, and the app lets you do pretty sophisticated smarts by filling out a few wizard choices. We’ve hooked up an Iris thermostat, and they keep a list of compatible devices beyond the ones for sale on the site. The one issue we’ve had so far is adding one user to the account who already had another account set up.
I also looked into Iris (Lowes’ system), Vera, and HomeSeer. Each had merits, but Iris seemed less “hackable”, while the others’s apps didn’t seem as polished. I specifically did _not_ want something that had to run on my PC, because I don’t want to leave the computer on all the time and have moved on to laptop/iPads mostly for home computing in this “post-PC world”. HomeSeer requires a PC to run the software for it. Vera was a contender, but as far as I can tell it does not have the phone location-based presence feature SmartThings does, and in general their “MiOS” seemed less intuitive than SmartThings. Finally, SmartThings is both ZWave and ZigBee compatible, and has WeMo, Sonos, and Philips Hue support in beta.
I Need to Twinkapate the Confabulator Capacitor
I need “Hackable” because I’m driven to tinker. I took apart clocks and old kitchen gear from a young age, and grew up burning out transistors in various electronics kits. Here, SmartThings gets an A. They offer an Arduino shield right on their site, and a pretty sweet web-based IDE for writing your own apps. They would get an A+ if they improved the developer documentation a bit. Then again, “hackable” by it’s definition implies a bit of undocumented exploration. To that end I’ve found I am slowly ‘groking’ how to customize this, and have not burned out any transistors.
Is My Head in the Cloud?
At this point, I have two main concerns I’m keeping an eye on. First, will cloud-based be a boon or an Achilles heel? All of the ‘brains’ of SmartThings run in the cloud. If your internet is down, it doesn’t work (I think this is a true statement?) But, this also means they can push out updates and add new features faster. So, it’s a double-edged sword, and something of a debate in the Home Automation world. Only time will tell if the pros of cloud-based outweigh the cons.
I Need More Power, Captain
Second, some of the devices are battery based. I really don’t like changing batteries, and if these don’t last a year or two on batteries, I’ll probably be annoyed. I don’t have data on this yet, so hopefully it’s a non-issue.
So, this is still a learning process for me, but hopefully that sheds a little light on what I’m thinking. Stay tuned as we continue to build out our system – who knows what twists and turns we’ll take along the way!